With that, the worrying commences.
You are the favored team, you lose the first game, you lose it at home, and you then deal with the nervousness that rains down all around you. That is suddenly the Flyers’ predicament after their 1-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.
They played well enough to win, but they didn’t. The Sabres were stable and persistent and they blocked about a thousand shots. The Flyers were physical and they sometimes were dynamic, but they couldn’t solve the goaltender (a song that people who follow this franchise have sung before).
The only goal of the game went down like this: a point shot by the Sabres’ Marc-Andre Gragnani, a save by the Flyers’ Sergei Bobrovsky, a rebound, and Patrick Kaleta sneaking between defenseman Danny Syvret and Matt Carle and scoring into the open net. It was 5:56 of the third period and the Wells Fargo Center was silent and that was that.
The Flyers had the better of the play for the first two periods -- not by a lot, but an advantage nonetheless. Whoever was worried about switches needing to be flipped after a lackluster last few weeks of the regular season need not have been concerned. A Flyers team that made it to the Stanley Cup Final last season, a team that knew when everybody would really start keeping score, arrived on time for Game 1.
That isn’t to say that they dominated, because they didn’t. Then again, nobody really expected them to dominate a Buffalo team that was uber-hot at the end of the season, a team with an elite goaltender named Ryan Miller. But the Flyers played physically and well. They just didn’t finish.
Through two periods, the Flyers were outshooting the Sabres by 26-19 and that was a pretty fair approximation of what went on. In the middle of the second period, the Flyers had their best stretch -- beginning with a two-man advantage that lasted 38 seconds and continuing on for the rest of the final penalty. A flurry of chances in front of Miller were swallowed up by either the goaltender or the scurrying traffic. And then, later in the period, Jeff Carter was denied twice.
James Van Riemsdyk played a great, involved game. Mike Richards, recovering from what has been reported to be a head cold, was engaged throughout. Claude Giroux, playing with Carter and JVR, was doing his best to create the kind of magic which has become to define his game.
There was all of that.
But the Flyers couldn’t finish.